Bacteria Survive & Reproduce in Gravity 400,000X Stronger Than Earth's

By Valerie Ross | April 27, 2011 11:49 am

e coliE. coli

What’s the News: Some bacteria can live in extreme “hypergravity,” found a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, surviving and reproducing in forces 400,000 times greater than what’s felt on Earth. These findings fit with the idea that microbes carried on meteorites or other debris—a ride that would have subjected them to hypergravity-strength forces—may be the ancestors of life on Earth.

How the Heck:

  • While measuring the density of the common intestinal bacteria Escherichia coli, the researchers noticed that the bacteria seemed undeterred by spinning around at the equivalent of 7,500 G’s—so they decided to see how much pressure these microbes could handle.
  • The researchers spun samples of E. coli and three other types of bacteria in an ultracentrifuge, to generate hypergravity conditions.
  • E. coli and one other bacteria, Paracoccus denitrificans, could not only survive but continue to reproduce at 403,627 G’s, the scientists found, though its proliferation was stunted compared to what it is at Earth-level gravity. The other two species couldn’t endure such extreme gravitational forces, but all four could reproduce at least somewhat at 20,000 G’s.

What’s the Context:

  • Extremophile microbes have been observed going about their business under all kinds of seemingly inhospitable conditions, from sub-glacial lakes in Antarctica to anaerobic crevices deep in the Earth’s crust. These species, scientists think, suggest how life may survive the extreme temperatures or lack of oxygen elsewhere in the universe.
  • Finding that bacteria do so well in hypergravity, the researchers wrote, likewise suggests that “the habitability of extraterrestrial environments must not be limited by gravity.”
  • Long-ago asteroids and comets that may have carried alien microbes to Earth were likely accelerated to around 300,000 G’s, which this study suggests microbes could have survived. These findings also open up more places to search for life today, such as brown dwarf stars, with surface gravity of 10 to 100 G’s and, in some cases, temperatures that may be cool enough to support life.
  • Humans can’t come close to surviving, let alone making more humans, under these conditions; we tend to lose consciousness at about five times Earth’s gravity.

Reference: Shigeru Deguchi, Hirokazu Shimoshige, Mikiko Tsudome, Sada-atsu Mukai, Robert W. Corkery, Susumu Ito, and Koki Horikoshi. “Microbial growth at hyperaccelerations up to 403,627 × g.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences online, April 25, 2011. DOI:10.1073/pnas.1018027108

Image: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Space
  • Craiglsj

    Life on a brown dwarf star, huh? It sounds like science fiction. While bacterial life may survive under such gravity, more complex life seems unlikely. I seem to remember reading a paper/article once which suggested a maximum gravity for complex life because of the increasing energy demands to maintain said life in increasing gravities. Has anyone else heard this?

  • Iowa

    They’re not talking about “advanced” life.

  • Craiglsj

    Iowa…I didn’t think they were. I was just stating, and hoping someone might be able to point me to the information which indicates as such.

  • John Lerch

    They seemed to have failed to compare the spread of density of the cell organelles to the density of water. IOW if most of the organelles have density 1 like water, the net force on the bacteria is zero. Of course that won’t happen, but no doubt that is the determinant of which bacteria can survive and/or reproduce and which won’t.

  • Atwas911

    Totally not surprised at all.

    We once thought the floor of the deepest parts of the oceans were totally uninhabitable for life.. We demanded that it was impossible for anything to live at such depths and pressures.

    Then.. we actually went down and found that our original ideas couldn’t have been further from the truth, and that infact life was abundant and thriving.

    Just as i’m sure its the same with the majority of the other planets in our viewing range..

    Just another example of relative stupid cultures with “God Child” complexes demanding they know something when in fact they know very little…

    Less than a single grain of sand worth of information in the nearly endless beach of knowledge and facts that the collective universe holds..

    Oh but we’re the children of “gods”.. We’re important… We know it all..

  • Chris

    Atwas911 – Could that have been a more pointless and unwarranted trolling? (could i have been more predictable in responding?)

  • Clockwork Kumquat

    Chris – Well, Atwas911 -did- just make a very important point about how humanity needs to step up the whole “thinking outside the box” thing in regards to what constitutes life and its survival in conditions we would consider impossible. It is just that he made that point by using himself as an uncannily accurate example of what he calls our “God child” complex.

    The human species is not the center of the universe, as all of us believe the great majority of the time. As the only life form we have thus far discovered with the penchant for curiosity, experimentation, and analysis of the other life forms around us, it would seem that it is our responsibility to be open to the idea that “life” can be expressed in infinite ways, and that we not limit ourselves to searching for life that resembles ourselves or any of our inborn notions of superiority.

    [ /armchair science rant]

  • Craiglsj

    Clockwork: I agree. We humans have preconceived notions of what is and isn’t life. Given we have only one example in the whole universe to date, its not wrong per se for us to look for what looks like us. At the same time we need to understand life, and for that matter intelligence, may look nothing like we expect.

  • Craiglsj

    Somehow my addendum got lost. I played upon my original post to imagine a cell level thin neural net on a brown dwarf which “moves” the entire star over time by shifting mass. An intelligent star!

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